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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Famine Spreads in Somalia

Nancy Lindborg is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

Today the U.N. declared ongoing famine in the Bay Region, adding to the five areas in southern Somalia already facing famine conditions.  The U.N. also increased the number of Somalis in crisis to 4 million and says that 750,000 are at risk of death in the coming months in the absence of an adequate humanitarian response.

The unfortunate reality is that Somalia is the most difficult operating environment for humanitarians in the world today.  Access continues to be denied by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups, creating an indefensible situation where they would rather put hundreds of thousands of Somali lives in jeopardy than allow humanitarian aid in.  The massive amount of humanitarian aid required to save tens of thousands of lives simply cannot reach those in Bay Region and other areas in southern Somalia.

You might be wondering why people don’t just leave southern Somalia.  Many in southern Somalia are already too weak to flee to neighboring countries to receive life-saving assistance.  For those who are able to leave, they face a grueling walk through the desert, often with no food or water to sustain them.  If they survive the weeks long walk to Kenya or Ethiopia, they often tell haunting stories of losing several children on the way and are so malnourished themselves that they require treatment to survive.

So when the U.N. says “750,000 people at risk of death in the coming four months in the absence of adequate response,” what they really mean is that unless we – the international community – can get access to provide humanitarian assistance to southern Somalia, the already horrific situation will get worse.  Without access, the number of people in crisis will increase, and famine will continue to spread in Somalia.

We continue to call on all parties involved to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Somalis in need.  The international community will not stop trying to provide life-saving aid in southern Somalia, and we will not stop trying to gain access to those in need.

The United States is providing over $600 million in assistance to help those affected by drought in the Horn of Africa, including $102 million in assistance to help those in Somalia.  U.S. assistance provides food, treatment for the severely malnourished, health care, clean water, proper sanitation, hygiene education and supplies.  We continue to look for innovative ways to get assistance into southern Somalia.

From Emergency Aid to Economic Empowerment

Last week, I traveled with four of my USAID colleagues to a drought-stricken area of Ethiopia as part of a larger visit to the Horn of Africa region. The worst drought the region has seen in 60 years has put more than 12.4 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia in need of urgent assistance.

One purpose of our visit was to observe the drought emergency, but we were also there to determine how to better merge USAID’s drought recovery programs with long-term development programs like Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s multi-agency global food security initiative. It all seems simple enough, but the more we saw, the more we realized the complexities of our work.  As difficult as it is to feed people in the midst of a crisis, it is much harder to prepare them before a crisis so food aid will not be required in the first place.

The Bokko Health Center in Ethiopia’s East Hararghe Zone is a lone outpost in the battle against this drought. There we found 10 skeletal children clinging to their mothers, trying to take in as much therapeutic food as they could. I have seen many severely malnourished children over a career spanning 30 years, but it never gets any easier to see a child who is two years old but weighs only 10 pounds. You just can’t help but compare your own children’s robustness with the hard circumstance of these kids. Our job is to make sure these kids get the right foods to keep them alive and give them the chance to grow.

After three more stops to view a health center and two USAID-supported projects in topsoil restoration and pastoralist market support, we began to work our way back to Addis Ababa. We stopped at the small farm of Wozro (Mrs.) Terunesh.  A thin woman and a widow, with the distinctive neck tattoos of Oromia, Mrs. Terunesh is the quintessential entrepreneur. With help from a USAID-supported Land O’Lakes dairy livestock program, she now has two cows that give milk and help support her. But she hasn’t stopped there; she has moved on to raising chickens. She also formed a women’s group that uses drip irrigation to grow tomatoes and onions that bring in more income. Most importantly, she is the master farmer who teaches some 50 other local women how to be better farmers. She had the drive to improve her circumstances, and fortunately USAID could give her the training that she needed to go even further than she could have on her own. With women making up 70% of the agricultural workforce in many African countries, projects like the one helping Mrs. Terunesh are essential to lessening gaps in gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the welfare of women and girls.

Our trip took us from drought to terrace to land tenure to livestock to diversified smallholder. Seeing it all firsthand, we felt that we better understood how USAID is helping a very diverse set of actors improve their livelihoods. Ethiopia still faces the deepening pain of this drought, which continues to cause many children to struggle for their lives. But we are working to reach more and more of these children through our comprehensive programs, from therapeutic feeding to dairy, to make a lasting difference. Ultimately, we aim to help them develop the resources and capacity so that in the future, they are more resilient to the more frequent droughts plaguing the Horn of Africa.

On World Humanitarian Day, 100 Ways You Can Help Victims of the East Africa Drought

Today is World Humanitarian Day.  Reaching out to those suffering from crisis and disaster is a fundamental human impulse and a deeply enshrined American value.  It is a value we share with people around the globe.  It is the silver lining of any crisis, when the best of who we are as people emerges just when things are the bleakest.

Today is an opportunity to honor the humanitarian impulse in all of us and to applaud all the ways in which people mobilize to help others, even when they have little to spare.  I saw it in Tunisia in March, when people, already reeling from an economic plunge, spontaneously organized to take in Libyan refugees who needed help.  We are seeing it with the Kenyans for Kenya campaign, a growing movement in Kenya to raise funds through a text campaign to help their neighbors suffering from a brutal drought.  And I saw it when I visited Somali-American communities in the Midwest who are washing cars, having bake sales and canvassing local businesses to raise funds for those struggling to survive famine in Somalia.

Today is an opportunity to salute those humanitarian workers who spend their lives providing service, often at great personal risk.  World Humanitarian Day was established in 2003 in honor of the humanitarian workers who lost their lives in the tragic bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.  In 2010, 242 aid workers were killed, injured, or kidnapped, according to the United Nations.  As of April of this year, 12 aid workers have been killed and 10 been kidnapped.  So today is a reminder of the daily risks aid workers face, and an opportunity to honor those who continue to spend their careers and lives devoted to humanitarian work.  Being a relief worker these days often means ever greater risk is required to reach those most in need.

As we reflect on the legacies and lives of the aid workers who paid the ultimate price in service to helping others—whether during the devastating earthquake in Haiti last year or in active conflict zones—let us also appreciate the tremendous service that aid workers worldwide continue to perform every day, despite the risks, and in pursuit of a more peaceful and prosperous planet.

World Humanitarian Day is above all a celebration of all the ways people help others around the world. And I cannot think of a better way to honor humanitarians than to encourage you to help those in eastern Africa who are struggling to survive in the wake of the worst drought in 60 years.

So how can you help?  The quickest, most efficient way is to make a cash donation to a relief organization that is already working in the drought and famine zone.  Cash donations are the most effective form of assistance because they allow humanitarian organizations to purchase the exact type and quantity of items needed by those affected by the crisis. Donated goods require international transportation and handling, which is expensive, complex, and time-consuming; in addition, they are often not labeled in the appropriate language or packaged appropriately for storage and distribution.

USAID does not accept donations; so click here to find an organization currently providing humanitarian assistance in east Africa. Questions to consider when selecting an organization include whether the organization can provide a clear description of how they are assisting in the region, a solid history of experience delivering aid, and a transparent explanation of how funds will be used.

The USAID-supported Center for International Disaster Information has 100 ways that you can raise funds for international relief efforts.  Tell us in the comments section, on Facebook, or on Twitter: how have you raised money or awareness to benefit the victims of the East Africa drought?

Our Response to the Horn of Africa Drought

This morning, the United Nations declared what has become plain to anyone who has witnessed the devastation caused by this epic drought: thousands of people in southern Somalia are currently in a state of famine.

After the announcement, I visited the Wajir and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. I saw child after child weary from their long journey to the camps, eager for their first meal in days if not weeks. Seeing a child in such a fragile state—witnessing just one child face such difficult circumstances—is heartbreaking. Knowing that millions of children face a similar fate in the coming months unleashes a sense of profound sorrow.

Dadaab is now the fourth largest city in Kenya, home to more than 370,000 people who were in such a state of need that they fled their homes, many on foot, many from hundreds of miles away, just to find food, water, and healthcare for themselves and their children.

But the other thing I witnessed in those children was a strong sense of resilience. They weren’t beaten down by their circumstances or overcome with despair. They were courageous, strong, unwilling to succumb to the tragedy that surrounded them.

Throughout the region, more than 11.5 million people are in need of emergency assistance, and there is no quick fix to that need. The United States, in cooperation with all of its international partners, is doing everything it can to help relieve that suffering with food, water, healthcare, and other critical services. Our priority is to save lives, and our experts are working day and night to find every channel possible to provide that desperately needed assistance.

For years, we’ve been working with the Ethiopian government on a safety net program that has step by step improved food security for many living in areas vulnerable to drought.

Even in this record drought, due to that long-term effort, 8.3 million people that have benefited from this program today do not need emergency assistance.
Since October 2010, the U.S. Government has provided $459 million in life-saving aid to over 4.4 million people in the eastern Horn.

But that is no comfort today to those who have no food or water for their children, or for themselves. We must implement long-term strategies that can help prevent this kind of suffering once and for all.
The President’s Feed the Future initiative is designed to partner with countries like Ethiopia and Kenya to develop their own agricultural industries, helping them break free of the need for humanitarian food aid. Only through a long-term sustained investment in their own food security can these countries escape the vicious cycle of famine of food aid we’ve once again witnessed.

Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

Eva Biaudet, 2011 TIP Hero, On Finland’s Work to Combat Trafficking

This week, I traveled from Washington, D.C.—where I was honored to be named a 2011 TIP Hero—to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I have had the opportunity to discuss modern day slavery with prominent women from all over the world. As I listened to the Ghanian Minister of Women’s Affairs speak passionately about the forces that make women vulnerable to trafficking in her country and the need to rescue victims and hold perpetrators accountable in destination countries like Finland, I was reminded of how important it to share our knowledge about trafficking and coordinate our response.

In 2010, Finland issued the first national report on human trafficking, and it has already had a significant impact on our work combatting modern day slavery. First, the report has given decision makers and authorities an evidence-based analysis of our response to the problem, including the success of police in identifying victims of trafficking and exploitation. Second, the report examines the extent to which victims have been able to access assistance available to them and how well their rights have been protected as they move through the system.

Eva Biaudet is the Ombudsman for Minorities of Finland. Photo Credit: Eva Biaudet

The report recommended that the threshold of accession be lowered and that the assistance process be separated from the crime investigation process. Drawing on lessons learned , the report noted that police sometimes focus on gathering evidence against perpetrators at the expense of protecting the victim (or considering what will happen to her once the investigation is complete) The report also highlighted the importance of gender throughout the process, demonstrating how prejudice and stigma can influence authorities and courts.

To combat such prejudice, we use a victim centered approach in our antitrafficking work; this is also the starting point for the The Finnish National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. The task of the National Rapporteur is to analyze and evaluate the implementation of legislation and activities to combat trafficking in human beings, and to issue recommendations to Parliament on making the action against human trafficking more effective.

The Parliament’s discussion of the National Rapporteur’s recommendations have deepended our understanding of trafficking in Finland and enabled us to repond more effectively to this crime. The National Rapporteur’s work is essential for the legislators and budgetmakers, as it enables them to make decisions on resources and to allocate them effectively.

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Picture of the Week

USAID is providing food, including sorghum shown here at Majak Aher near Turalei, Warrap State, and other emergency assistance to Sudanese displaced by fighting in the Abyei Area. Photo Credit: USAID/Donna Kerner

Our Sympathy to the World Food Programme

On behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development, I would like to extend our heartfelt sympathy for the loss of Santino Pigga Alex Wani of the World Food Programme (WFP). Our deepest condolences go to his colleagues at the World Food Programme as well as to Santino Pigga’s friends and family. We are deeply saddened by his loss of life and the tragic circumstances that led to his passing in Southern Sudan.

In Southern Sudan and throughout the world, WFP’s dedicated staff face dangerous and challenging conditions as they provide emergency food aid to people in desperate need. We applaud the staff at WFP for their bravery, dedication, and commitment to the world’s hungry.

PSAid Competition

When an international disaster strikes, we soon begin to hear stories of the devastation and the suffering of those affected.  They have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes.  The pictures we see are gut-wrenching, and we can’t help but think about how we can help.  We have so much, and they have so little.  The least we can do is help, right?

Clothing donations abandoned in Banda Aceh in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Photo credit: USAID

The next thing you know, schools are collecting shoes for children, houses of worship are collecting clothes for families, and neighborhoods are collecting teddy bears for those who have nothing.   The local radio station is announcing locations to drop off donations of items that might be needed, and everyone pitches in to make a difference by bringing supplies from the pantry, the closet, the garage, and wherever else to help the cause.

What most people never see is what happens to that goodwill on the other end in the disaster-affected area.  I work for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and it is our job on behalf of all Americans to manage the U.S. Government’s response to an international crisis.  I am usually deployed to major international disasters, and I do get to see what happens to the spontaneous donations.

First, you should know that most spontaneous in-kind donations never even make it to the disaster zone.  This is usually because of the sky high cost of moving the goods from the states coupled with the lack of a group to accept and distribute the donations to those in need.  And if the supplies do make it to the disaster-affected country, the supplies are often an inappropriate match for what is needed. I cannot forget the winter coats and prom dresses we saw piled on the airport tarmac after the 2004 Pacific tsunami.  I can’t help but think how generous the donors were, but their passion was uninformed.  As we saw in Indonesia and every international disaster before and since, these spontaneous donations often clog the pipelines that are providing life-saving medical supplies, food, shelter and hygiene materials, and other assistance to the very people everyone is trying to help.

Everything we have learned over the years has taught us that if you really want to help those in need, you should make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the disaster-affected area. Nothing will get there faster or help more.  And the cash donations will allow experts to buy — often in the struggling local markets — exactly what is needed.

To better inform those who want to help, USAID works with the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).  CIDI holds an annual competition for college students to create public service announcements (PSA) that help spread the message that cash donations are best.

To enter the competition, students submitted  print and radio PSAs that explained the importance of appropriate international disaster response and build support for international disaster relief work done by well-established, U.S.-based organizations.  Now in its 6th year, PSAid is highly regarded among the nation’s leading university communications programs. Approximately 60 entries were received from students this year.  The 2011 winners were announced on April 21 at www.psaid.org.

Please take a moment to visit the PSAid site and help spread the message that cash is the best way to help.  On behalf of all of us who see so many donations with the best of intentions languish in ports, on runways, and in warehouses in countries affected by disaster, thank you for helping us better inform your family, friends and communities.

Celebrating National Women’s History Month: Mother and Daughter Team Up for Development

USAID 50th anniversary banner

The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.

March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world.  For Paula, it is through her work at USAID.  She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains.   Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program.  These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development.  Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.

Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track.  She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards.  She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.

“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle.  She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption.  She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was:  “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”

Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe.  She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist.  You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and  needed – everywhere!”

Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.

The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles.  This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”

Like mother, like daughter.

A Dispatch from the Tunisian and Libyan Border

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID on the ground. Photo Credit: USAID

Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.

Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.

Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.

I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.

Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.

I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.

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